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Rural Missouri Magazine
Creating heroes
with his hands

Sculptor Harry Weber immortalizes Missouri history and sports in bronze

by Bob McEowen

Nearly 100 times a year, from March through October, thousands of people stream by the artwork of sculptor Harry Weber in downtown St. Louis. A dozen of the artist’s bronze statues, which form a promenade outside Busch Stadium, represent some of the city’s best-loved personalities, but few among the throngs attending Cardinal home games pause to study the art.

Artist Harry Weber creates a bust of former MU basketball coach Norm Stewart. Weber has created statues of some of Missouri's most-loved sports and historic personalities. This sculpture will be placed in the University of Missouri's new basketball arena in Columbia.

“Maybe one out of 100 of those people passing by will stop and say, ‘That’s a good piece of sculpture,’” says Harry, one of the most prolific producers of public art in Missouri.

Although his work has been exhibited in museums and galleries, Harry’s sculptures are most often enjoyed by sports fans who usually view his pieces only as fitting tributes to heroes.

“A lot of those people don’t think of it as art,” he says. “I think of it as art but that’s OK if they don’t. If they think of it as a picture of Bob Gibson that’s great.”

Harry’s sculpture of legendary Cardinals hurler Bob Gibson is one of a series of statues on display at the St. Louis ballpark. The figures, which will be moved to a new Cardinals stadium next year, are just a few of the many sculptures Harry has produced to honor historical and sports figures.

Fans attending University of Missouri football games in Columbia pass by a 13-foot statue of coach Don Faurot. The Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in Springfield displays a number of Harry’s busts of Missouri sports figures along with two life-size works — one capturing golf pro Payne Stewart in mid-swing and another showing WNBA and Southwest Missouri State star Jackie Stiles, her arms poised to sink a basket.

Harry Weber sculpts a clay likeness of Herb Fanning, the unofficial mayor of Lynchburg, Tenn. The statue, commissioned by the Jack Daniel’s distilling company, will include a checkerboard set.

Like many of Harry’s sculptures, these pieces portray the drama of the sport and not just a likeness of his subjects.

“I really like glorifying action and motion,” says Harry, a member of Cuivre River Electric Cooperative. “I think of my sculptures as extreme slow motion. The drama you get when you see a football game or something replayed that’s the kind of activity I want in a bronze.”

Harry’s art is not limited to sports figures. Other pieces, such as a statue of pioneer Hannah Cole recently installed in Boonville, depict historical figures. Four figures in front of the Boone County Fire Protection District’s office in Columbia present iconic views of firefighters.

The range and diversity of Harry’s work is especially remarkable considering he was discouraged from pursuing art as a career and later cautioned against specializing in sculpture.

Raised in St. Louis, Harry comes from a family steeped in art. Two great-uncles were respected landscape painters and his grandfather operated art supply stores. But Harry’s father, an architectural engineer who helped design structural supports for the Gateway Arch, had little use for artists. He was not pleased when Harry expressed a desire to become one.

“My father was very much against it. He was going to send me to Washington University and enroll me in the engineering school,” Harry recalls. “I couldn’t stand the idea of being an engineer.”

Harry and his wife, Anne, are avid horse enthusiasts. The couple participates in fox hunts and Anne trains horses for show-jumping. Harry got his start as a sculptor creating statues of horses and foxhounds.

Among sculpture enthusiasts and art-conscious sports fans Harry Weber is known as a gifted artist. But in certain circles, particularly among show jumpers and fox hunting equestrians, the artist may be better known as Anne Weber’s husband . . . (READ MORE)

 

Instead, Harry pulled a reply card from a Reader’s Digest magazine and accepted the Navy’s offer to pay college costs. After earning a degree in art history Harry spent six years in the Navy, including a year on river boats in Vietnam, where he chronicled his experiences in an ever-present sketchbook.

After military service Harry worked in marketing and illustrated books and sold cartoons on the side. In the early 1980s he began experimenting with sculpture. An avid horse enthusiast who rode in fox hunts, Harry was asked to create a statue of a foxhound for the local bridle club. The piece was a success and the artist created more small sculptures reflecting the equestrian and fox hunting theme.

Harry received an unexpected endorsement when he displayed some of his work in an upscale store in New York. A thief smashed a window and made off with his sculptures, along with those of Western artist Frederick Remington and other scultors much better known than Harry.

“I don’t think the thief knew what he was doing, but I was very complimented,” he says. “I count that as the beginning of my career.”

Harry confers with Vlad Zhitomirsky during the installation of a sculpture of pioneer Hannah Cole in Boonville. Zhitomirsky heads VMD Sculptures of Olivette, one of two firms which produce the final bronze sculptures from Harry’s original artwork.

Technically, Harry is not a sculptor, at least not in the sense that he chips away stone. Instead, he’s a modeler, producing original artwork that becomes sculpture. Working with clay he pushes and shapes details with his fingers and fists. When the piece is completed he ships it off to have molds and bronze casts made.

“I do the original art but it’s a team of people working,” Harry says. “Each bronze you see out in front of a building probably helped employ about 10 people and had three different companies involved.”

Because of the effort and expense involved few artists can earn a living producing sculptures. It was no surprise Harry received little encouragement when he told a close friend he was considering giving up marketing to become a full-time sculptor.

“Don’t give up your day job,” the friend said. Harry ignored the advice.

In the past 22 years Harry has produced about 150 small pieces and 60 large sculptures, including large busts. Although he began his career producing tabletop-size sculptures of jumping horses and foxhounds, today Harry specializes in large monuments, commissioned by corporations or public entities. Currently he’s working on sculptures for the Kansas City Royals, Jack Daniel’s distilling company, Baylor University in Texas and the University of Missouri.

Besides being more profitable, these monumental works are more satisfying to the artist.
“It’s a lot more strenuous and a lot more physical activity sculpting something big than when you’re sculpting something on a desk top,” Harry says. “I get to shove clay around a lot more loosely with my hands and fingers and my fists than I do with dental tools and magnifying glasses.”

Harry works on his bust of basketball coach Norm Stewart.

Whether large or small Harry’s sculptures reveal the personality of his subjects. And while his work appears to convey every detail, he says that’s just an illusion.

“It looks like they’re highly detailed but it’s the suggestion of detail. You can see the batting glove in Ozzie Smith’s back pocket but it’s not so compulsive that you can see the stitching,” Harry says. “I would say it’s an impressionistic style. It’s a little more suggestive, loose and spontaneous as opposed to absolutely tight, every whisker in place.”

One thing not missing from Harry’s work is a sense of drama. His ability to capture motion in bronzetransforms mere likenesses of a subject into iconic images that truly immortalize and creates heros.

“I like things that move,” he says. Even in the bust I try to get some activity. I try to make them come alive.”

For more information log onto www.harryweber.com.

 

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